Whew! With the Bears down 21-10 mid-way through the third quarter I was getting panicked texts like:
- “At least next year’s draft class is good”
- “Did we trade Peppers in the offseason?”
- “How many games do we need to lose to have a shot at Teddy Bridgewater?”
- “Is that Lovie Smith in a Marc Trestman mask?”
You get the idea. The Bengals had just marched 80 yards and took half the quarter to do so (7:08). It looked like the Bears were in danger of being blown out because the defense couldn’t get stops on 3rd down and the offense looked eerily similar to last year’s version albeit with better pass protection.
Then Cutler led the Bears on a matching 80-yard TD drive, highlighted by a clutch 3rd & 7 conversion where he scrambled away from pressure, drew in the corner, and lofted a perfect pass to Martellus Bennet for a 30 yard gain. If the Bears fail to convert there, a tired defense comes back on field and the Bengals probably put the game out of reach. That was the play of the game in my opinion. Here are my takeaways from a messy, but solid week 1 victory:
- So that’s what an NFL tight end looks like. I had a Kellen Davis flashback when Bennett dropped the first pass thrown his way, but he quickly made up for it with an acrobatic TD catch and the huge 3rd down conversion I mentioned above. He finished the day with a pedestrian 3 catches for 49 yards, but that is more yards than the Bears have gotten from their tight end in all but one game the last two seasons. The Bears haven’t had a reliable option at tight end since Greg Olson and I forgot what a difference it makes.
- No sacks allowed! The Bengals finished 3rd in the NFL in sacks in 2012 and returned the same dominant line. Not only where there no sacks, but Cutler was rarely hit. It was an impressive performance across the line, but especially from the rookies who might not face a better D-line all regular season.
- No running lanes either. As good as the pass protection was, the run blocking needs to improve. There were very few holes for Forte to run through and he finished with a meager 2.6 yards per carry. The Bears can’t rely on Cutler to carry the team every week.
- Jay Cutler, game manager. Outside of the one pick that was at least partially caused by contact and an incomplete slant to Forte that was forced between two defenders, Cutler avoided the risky low-percentage throws that have plagued his time with the Bears. He was calm and collected in the pocket and the few times he did go down field his passes were right on the money. His overall stat line (21/33, 242, 2/1) wasn’t anything special, but I thought it was one of the most consistent games he has played as a Bear.
- Tillman / Jennings, role-reversal. The Bears secondary continues it’s ridiculous ability to force turnovers. Last year it was Tillman with 10 forced fumbles and Jennings with 9 interceptions. Sunday, Tillman had two picks and Jennings forced two fumbles (1 recovered, 1 kicked out of bounds). Both corners struggled a bit in coverage and in tackling Jermaine Gresham, but with the way the Bengals moved the ball this game could have gotten out of hand without the three turnovers forced by these two. Jennings’ 4th quarter strip of Mohamed Sanu kept points off the board and set up the game winning TD.
- No pass rush. With Bengals starting LT, Andrew Whitworth, out and being replaced by journeyman Anthony Collins, I expected a big game from RE Julius Peppers. Instead, he was a such a non-factor I don’t recall seeing him on the field. For more on Pepper’s check out our weekly Milk Carton. Former 1st round pick Shea McClellin had the only sack for the Bears.
- Time Outs. It was the Bears first game running Marc Trestman’s offense, so some confusion is understandable. That being said, burning 4 timeouts at home is hard to stomach. Let’s hope they are more comfortable with the offense by next week’s home match-up with the Vikings. The Bengals were somehow even worse at managing their timeouts even though they have a 10-yr vet at head coach in Marvin Lewis. They wasted timeouts on consecutive plays early in the 4th. The first because of not enough players on the field before a crucial 4th down play and the second because of too many players on the field afterwards. This left the Bengals with no timeouts late in the 4th allowing the Bears to run out the final 6:38 of the clock.
- Composure. Live by the criminal, die by the criminal. The Bengals have traditionally taken chances on players with character issues and rap sheets (PacMan, Burfict, Maualuga, Tank Johnson, there are quite a few more) and it came back to haunt them late in the game when Ray Maualuga dragged rookie Jordan Mills to the turf drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty after the Bears failed to convert a 3rd down. It gave the Bears another first down and cost the Bengals a chance at a final drive. Thanks Ray! I was impressed that the rookie Mills had enough composure not to retaliate.
- Marc Trestman. – The Bears had a 4th & 1 at the Bengals 27 yd-line with 8:32 to go in the game. Despite being well within Robbie Gould range, Trestman not only went for it, but ran it to the right side behind a couple of rookie linemen. Jay Cutler put it best: “Ballsy play-calling, that’s what Trestman’s about.” The Bears play calling the first half was fairly cautious and not what fans expected from a supposed offensive-minded coach, but Trestman made up for it with some excellent half-time adjustments and the gutsy call on 4th & 1. Despite the slow start, it was a pretty solid debut.
- Brandon Marshall. He’s still awesome. There was a lot of noise about his hip and his unhappiness with the new offense, but he looked just like last year’s version and finished with 8 catches, 104 yards, 1 TD and no drops.